As modern humans evolved from their hominid ancestors, their brain development continued with increasing specialization of regions and functions. One hypothesis suggests that the differences between the left and right hemispheres of the human brain can be traced to humans’ simian ancestors swinging through trees. Grasping one limb after another requires the arms to act independently instead of in unison. Perhaps the ancestors of humans began emphasizing the use of one arm over another, encouraging greater neuronal development in the hemisphere that controlled action on that side of the body.
One of the most pronounced differences between brain hemispheres can be observed in dissection of cadavers. The brain region mainly responsible for speech, the planum temporale, is larger in the left hemisphere of two-thirds of human brains. The left-handed nature of language is evident across time and stage of life. Full-term fetuses exhibit larger, speech-related regions in the left hemisphere than in mirror locations on the right hemisphere. The same was true of Neanderthals, according to the telltale marks on the inside of their 50,OOO-year-old skulls made by contact with their gyri and sulci.
THE SEXES DIFFER in cognitive ways. A big one involves spatial orientation. Men typically use mental maps, while women prefer landmarks. Men would likely give directions by saying, “Drive north 2.2 miles, turn east, and drive 1.5 miles,” whereas women would more likely say, “Drive toward the mountains until you see the barn, turn right, and go to the pond.” Small wonder that one sex may get frustrated giving directions to the other. Women take the prize for remembering objects’ locations-where are those keys?- while men win at abstract spatial reasoning, such as mentally rotating objects. As a group, men have a wider dispersal of scores on some mental tests.
Much human behavior arises from culture and environment. Some, however, appears to be prewired into the brain. The capacity for language appears to be so strongly encoded that children raised without exposure to any language will make up their own.
Communication is an evolutionary favored social activity that helps humans compete with other animals for resources necessary for life. Similarly, the brain’s ability to process and integrate visual stimuli exists almost immediately after birth. At only a few weeks old, an infant raises its arms to protect itself from the approach of an object. Sight, texture, and size appear to be aspects of object recognition that the brain is prewired to bring together for self-defense.